Recommendations for amplifiers, antenna/tower, etc. with SmartSDR for remote operation via screen sharing

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It's been 45 years since I first had my General license when I was 13, so I clearly have a lot of catching up to do... and certainly appreciate the experienced advice and guidance I've been getting here on this forum so far.

I'm designing a new ham shack for my lake house that's located 2 hours from home (and the HOA-restricted primary residence I've been working on lately for ham shack #1).  

I've decided to leverage the Flex 6700 for remote operation at shack #2 at the lake, using an inexpensive remote desktop app called Splashtop, which has bench tested out much better than TeamViewer and other options I have tried thus far for phone/SSB operations.

I plan to use remote UHD/4K screen sharing as I have no other reliable way to connect to the Flex 6700 appliance inbound through a Verizon MiFi or the crappy DSL modem with a VPN, and prefer a big screen experience when onsite at the lake house with local operation anyway.  I'm planning to use a Web Power Switch to remote control power outlets so I can reboot the Flex 6700 and the PC (if it fails to check in on time). The Web Power Switch for PC and Flex 6700 will run off a 1500 VA UPS.

So far, so good I think (fingers-crossed) ...

So I'm hoping to get some experienced recommendations on:

  1. HF Amplifier to use with SmartSDR, ideally with auto-tuning to make band changes fast and painless when operating remote, away from the amplifier.  Something between 500W and 1,500W controllable remotely via screen-sharing on Windows 10 would be ideal.  

      I have access to both 120 VAC immediately and 220 VAC easily enough. Since it's operating remote, not sure what additional safety / shutdown measures are required (to much current to flow through the Web Power Switch device which has max of 15 amps)

  2. Antenna rotator with good Windows 10 remote support.

The tower I'm leaning toward is a US Tower HDX-555 - 55' power-telescopic with 20' mast, mounted to a TRX-80 hinged tower base to make it easier to work on the antenna. Still evaluating antennas - leaning toward the Element Force 12 yagi xr5 for 20 - 10 meters.  I believe the RMC-1000 & LIMIT SWITCH will enable me to remotely raise/lower the tower, as well.
(open to suggestions on tower/antenna as well).

To get started, I'm putting up a multi-band Ni4l ZS6BKW inverted-V in a tree this weekend. I have room for a long-wire if needed for 80m.

Ideally I'd like to end up with fully-integrated remote station solution, but based on what I've researched it appears that's not available at this time, so best-of-breed components is the way to go for operating remote with Flex and SmartSDR (if that's an incorrect assumption, would be helpful to know what I have missed).

Thanks in advance.

Rick
KG5PJB

P.S.  If this type of post would be better aimed at a different forum or site, please advise.
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Rick - W5FCX

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Posted 2 years ago

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George Molnar, KF2T, Elmer

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Hi Rick. Sounds like you're well on your way. I also remote my 6500 using Splashtop when I'm not using SSDR for iOS. Works quite reliably for the keyboard modes. A good VPN will allow iOS and remote computer use as if you're right there.

Elecraft 500w amp has remote app for Windows or Mac, RF sensed T/R, and has been a good performer for me. I did put an extra fan on it for peace of mind while away. Software and remote relay power control possible.

I use a dipole with a remote feedpoint tuner for HF. A LAN relay port controls the Bias Tee to reset the tuner every so often. The 6 and 2 meter beams are occasionally remote controlled by XYLSoft Ver 2.0, which is very reliable but high maintenance. Looking for a replacement technology that works Mac. No upgrade to XYLSoft does that, though. At least none I can afford :-)
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EA4GLI - 8P9EH - Salvador

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I like the SPE Expert 1.3k. I currently use it remotely and it works flawlessly.
It has a tuner, will reach 1500w, work from 160m to 4m, has 4 antennas, 2 inputs and 1 SO2R port for an RX antenna. It will connect to your remote PC by USB or Serial port.
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Mike va3mw

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Rick

There is no one good answer.   I've been doing this for 11 years and it just keeps getting easier.  I don't physically touch my station for 6 months of the year, so I have to be able connect directly to it to fix things.  I've tried just about every remote internet switch and tossed out many of them.  I quickly learned what the Amsat guys go through!  LOL

Some key parts that work for me.  

I don't use Teamviewer or similar tools.  I use Microsoft Remote Desktop.  It is built into each version of Windows Pro.  It is a direct connection and there is no middle man.  Yes, you do need to know your IP address, but that is easily solved.  It by far has the best screen resolution.

I use PSTRotatorAZ to handle ALL my rotator work and antenna switching.  Amazing product and very inexpensive.  The author is amazing.  I have just asked him to integrate PSTRotatorAZ into the Flex network.  He is going to look into that this weekend.  Yes, you do have to add some antenna switch relays.

My amp is the Elecraft 500 due to the price and reliability.  Easy to interface (Coax and PTT).  I let it handle all the band switching and it is built like a tank.

Beyond that, you need to consider how to handle things when you can't go push buttons.

My plan is all KISS and TNO (trust no one).  I don't use anyone else's servers/operations to get in  my way of controlling my station.  All of my connections are peer to peer.  I do use Teamview as a backup ... just in case.

For SmartSDR, you can run it locally if you have the bandwidth.  Even better, add a Maestro to your solution.

Many others will chime in.  Take the ideas you like.  

Mike va3mw
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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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I run remotely from all over the world much of the time. (CUrrently in Paris)

Because of weight restrictions and PIA shleping my control surface is an iPad Pro

SmartSDR for iOS software ....Parallels Access for those rare times I need to control the base PC

I use the SPE 2K-FA (Life is to short for QRP rigs like the Elecraft

My rotor is a Yaesu GX2800...My beam is a SteppIR MonstIR

Everything is as automated as possible --amp, rotor, beam all controlled by DDUTIL

I have several remote WEMO switches in case I need to reboot things.

My typical remote session starts with Parallels Access to turn on the Amp and turn the beam

Then I switch to SmartSDR for iOS

The Steppir and amp follow the 6700

To shutdown the amp I use DDUTILvia Parllels

Basic configuration with continual changes has been in operation since 2011.
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Cal Spreitzer

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I've had great success using the Elecraft KPA-500 Amp and Matching KAT-500 Antenna Tuner.    I've been able to run both automatically using DDUtil along with my Flex-6500 via remote without any issues.   It's basically like having a 500 watt transceiver.   I've got DDutil running on my shack computer and it displays the status of my Flex, Tuner and Amp.  I can remote in to the shack computer while away and see everything.   I've got auto tunning,  and auto switching of my antenna ports  depending on what band the radio goes to.  I've also got the drive level for the amp set depending on what band i'm on.  I mainly run my Apple Ipad Mini via softether VPN for radio control. 

Cal/N3CAL   
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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Hi Rick.

The SPE Expert 1.3K-FA is definitely the way to go until the Power Genius XL is released, and we don't know the price of it yet.

As far as rotors go, any rotor will do as long as you use a proper controller. The gold standard now is the Green Heron Engineering RT-21. We have one but it is an older one.  It works pretty well.  You can actually use DDUtil to connect to it remotely.  We use it to control a Prosistel PST71D which turns a MonstIR. 

Not really an expert on crankup/motorized towers so I will defer to others. 

For VPN you would want a Raspberry Pi box and run SoftEther on it. This is the easiest solution that supports everything. 

73,
Ria
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Rick - W5FCX

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Very helpful.  I'm being told the SPE 1.3K is back ordered until March 2017 by our dealer!  That's makes this decision a whole lot easier.
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Walt - KZ1F

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Where I disagree with Sal is output of a linear has a distinct point of diminishing returns. When I went through the same process I was told by many 'nobody needs more than 600 watts as the difference on the receiving end drops off precipitously". I've found this to be true. I priced out an soe and, to my recollection, in USD it was $5000. The far bigger bang for the buck is put that money into your radiator. If you can't hear then, you can't work them. Yes the KPA automatically does band switching and the KAT automatically does antenna switching, think 160-30 vs 20-6. So consider whether you want to advertise you put the bulk of your money where it counts or you didn't understand the hierarchy between the radiator and the operator.
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EA4GLI - 8P9EH - Salvador

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I guess I was taking that as "a given". All of this talk of amps etc... makes no sense if you are using an inverted V dipole with traps with the tips a few feet off the ground. LOL
(Edited)
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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It's about $5k with the ATU, less without. This is from the USA dealer with warranty service and support. However it comes with the attenuator for FCC certification.

The big difference to me between the KPA500 and the Expert is that the Expert uses a single package LDMOS device. This means it can tolerate higher SWR > 66:1, which is full output into a dead short, no problem whatsoever. Look at the youtube videos with the lab tests of LDMOS amplifiers and you will see them doing exactly that. However most amps incorporate SWR protection to reduce stress on the output tank circuit and to prevent you from burning up your coax. :)
LDMOS also has very high gain meaning that you could drive this with a QRP transceiver if you can get full output. Of course with the outdated FCC rules we don't get that ability in the US. 

From what I understand the KPA500 uses older RF MOSFET devices and not LDMOS. The 2K-FA also uses the older devices but more of them to achieve 2kw. 
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EA4GLI - 8P9EH - Salvador

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As far as prices, in Europe, you have to add VAT (21% in Spain), shipping from the US and customs duties. Making the Elecraft combo more expensive than the SPE..... just saying. 
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Steve W6SDM

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With questions like those, you will always get a bunch of answers, all of them good.

If you're watching your wallet, the Elecraft KPA500 is a great 500 watt amp.  When coupled with a KAT500 automatic tuner, it literally turns the 6xxx radio into a 500 watt transceiver.  I almost never need to tune when changing bands.  The amp works off of either 120 or 240 VAC.  Elecraft support is second only to Flex.
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Marc-Andre

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2K-FA is the amplifier i use with my flex 6500 and no other amp is even close to this beast
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Mark - WS7M

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I too can recommend the SPE amps.  I have the 1K which suits me just fine.  I have a 2K on order but don't think I can keep the order.  It just is too much money for what I need.

With a little software the SPE and Flex radios just work.   I have my radio and amp mounted in a shack near the antenna.  Quite a ways from where I operate.  No noise, no relays, no fans.  It just works.

I can sit in my living room on the laptop and copy code/work voice, whatever.

So a few other recommendations:

Since you are going for remote:

The Digital Loggers line of IP relays and power switches cannot be beat.

Here is there IP power switch:

https://www.amazon.com/Switch-Digital-Loggers-Outlets-Protection/dp/B00EZWD146/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&am...

Relay:

https://www.amazon.com/Web-Controlled-DIN-Relay-Sequencing/dp/B01994QNXK/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=...

I use a pair of these near my rig to allow me to completely cycle power on any device.

On the relay I ganged 3 relays to handle the 12V to the radio so I can completely remove power if required.  One relay is connected to the remote on/off port of the Flex radio.

The remote power switch can switch your power supply and any other devices.

The cool thing about these is they can be given web addresses to cycle stuff on/off.  So you don't need any special software.  You just set them up at a fixed IP then you construct a web link that will cycle power on devices.

If you are worried about security you can configure them to only allow control via password login.

Another device I use is:

https://www.amazon.com/MOXA-SERIAL-DEVICE-SERVER-NPORT/dp/B00PG9KRP8/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1474...

This is a 4 serial port IP to serial server.  There are many of these on the market but the Moxa brand while expensive is really good.   They can emulate com ports on a remote computer if desired.

In my case I simply wrote software to open the remote port and control my amp and 3 other RS-232 devices.

So it is getting easier to do stuff fully remote.

Mark
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Rick - W5FCX

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Extremely helpful.  Thank you all so much.  This definitely fills some gaps for my remote station.

I'm torn between the price/performance tradeoffs of the SPE Expert 1.3K-FA vs. the Elecraft KPA-500 Amp and Matching KAT-500 Antenna Tuner, so this helps me narrow down to two solid state amps that operate well remotely.

The tower/antenna is a whole project to itself that I'm going to approach separately once I have the remote station operational.

Thanks again!

Rick
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Walt - KZ1F

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And then there is the age-old adage, "a good op with a bad, and low power, rig will out perform a bad op with a good, and high powered, rig". 

I generally don't like quoting people who tell me things, some of which may be in confidence. But to elaborate on my reference to the steppirs, Don Daso is a guy who spends his days helping others set up / repair their antenna/tower systems. Here are some of what he said re: steppir:
"Mechanical systems fail, & putting motors in the sky is merely asking for trouble IMHO".

There is another guy, many on here know and respect, that said this,

"Our club has just sent its SteppIR to <the dump>. (in pieces of course) and replaced it with a Tennadyne T6 LPDA. This is the 4th total SteppIR breakdown with which I am acquainted."
I have a seven element M2 LP and have worked all over the world with it, deep south pacific, asia, you name it, I've worked it, all from New England. That on 100w. It is easier with 500w - 600w but not by a lot.
And for those scarce times I've had two panadapters active the antenna was resonate on both bands, simultaneously, no need to wait for motors and metal ribbons to be moved. All at a substantially reduced price.

Those who buying decisions are governed by lab results will find the real world seldom matches that created in a lab environment.

But for those that feel they must spend that kind of money, please let me know as I am retired and could use your generosity far better than some manufacturer. ;-)
(Edited)
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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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Walt

I totally disagree with your chacterizations of SteppIR being unreliable

I own a MonstIR ..extremely reliable for 11 years now

I have built and,helped install a number of SteppIR for friends and at contest stations

Other than making sure that the fiberglass elements have been painted with marine paint to protect them from UV, they have proven to be 100% reliable. The contest stations really stress the SteppIR in one weekend than hams will do in a year ...no issues.

In our A/B tests with other antennas (Force12) the SteppIR always outperformed everything else.

LP are compromise antennas. Owned a few years ago...better than a vertical but not as good as a tribander.

Wide Band receiving is really not an issue.. I typically monitor 3-5 bands simultaneously on JT65. Takes a couple of seconds to switch TX bands but then I dominate.

Bottom Line; if you want top of the line performance (like a Tesla) buy a SteppIR

If you want second rate performance use some other antenna.
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Ken - NM9P, Elmer

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I would imagine, Howard, that the differences in reported reliability may be regional. The Midwest lightning and New England ice can be brutal. As K9CT found, lightning and lots of Ice and wind are not kind to StepIR. But then they aren't kind to ANY antenna. I noticed that his antennas broke at the booms in the presence of ice and wind. The fiberglass seemed to be OK.

And his controllers were blasted by lightning. A double hit!

I have heard many more good reviews than bad for StepIR's. But when they DO break, it isn't pretty...or cheap.

Ken - NM9P
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Walt - KZ1F

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That wasn't my observation, that was the observation of 2 people who have extensive experience with them. Plus, turns out despite the comments from N6V it doesn't even work with the 6000. I was interested in the 4 ele until I realized N6V was a promotional stunt. Where would the 6000 be without Steve Nance????

I have the ruggedized version of the M2 17-30LP7, double think walls for just that reason. My KLM KT34XA looked like an upside down U for a good part of the winter. Again, Ken, one 'opinion' was from a southern boy and the other from a NW guy. When I went to HRO a year or so ago they had parts of one for sale on commission.

The aforementioned KT-34XA was flat across 10-15-20. When I modified the 530SP to open the WARC bands it was less than flat on 12 and 20 without my Heath Deluxe antenna tuner...Which btw, is for sale w/manual should one be collecting Heath gear.
(Edited)
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Ned K1NJ

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  Regionality and skills.
                    A ham here in New England, I believe it was Sam Harris, W1FZJ,
 once said "If your antenna didn't blow down last winter, it wasn't big enough".
 We have to face the consequences of our locations and do the best we can.
 It sometimes isn't the best antenna, just the one that is best for the situation.
 Develop skills to go along with these radios.  They will serve you well with the
best beam and kW. or a wire in a tree with 100W.

Ned,  K1NJ

 
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Rick - W5FCX

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I ended up going with the Elecraft KPA-500 Amp and Matching KAT-500 Antenna Tuner, mainly because it's in stock and available (unlike the SPE 1.3).  I figure if I don't like it or want to upgrade to more power later, it won't take long to sell the Elecraft, as they don't last long on ebay from my research (and don't come up for sale often either).

I'm sure that a few extra S units of power at the receiving end of a QSO would be helpful in DX contesting.  For that, I'm going to concentrate on my antenna system and invest more there instead of in the amp for now.  My concern is that I need to be able to hear them to work them and so I need leverage in both RX and TX directions.
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Steve W6SDM

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In the Sonoran desert, our antennas just melt.